sometimes a race isn't about a goal
that which you seek inside you will find. ~Yoda
I had a running first this weekend at the Angel Fire Endurance Runs: I… actually, I’ll tell the story and then you’ll see.
The morning began like every other race morning does for me – casual, untroubled, relaxed, despite the fact that I always cut it close. So, yeah… I wandered over to the mandatory pre-race athletes’ meeting, barely on time, coffee in hand, and not quite fully dressed because that’s what I do. Several of us were chatting while I was pulling my hair back and a friend of mine helped me secure the trekking poles in my hydration vest. Dave, the RD, finished up his announcements just as I was situating my headlamp, and within a minute the gun goes off. Actually, it was a small enough race that he just yelled “Go!” but either way, we all start moving forward, falling into step with one another for the first few minutes before individuality set in and the gap between runners grew wider. It was dark for the first mile, and even though small talk was happening all around me, I was comfortably inside my own head… thinking about the day ahead, the mountain in front of me, and how the pocket on my new hydration vest seemed to be specifically designed to hold my good luck stone. For that one dark mile, I felt normal.
The sun peeked over the horizon – that fucking beautiful, mountainous horizon – just as I was really getting into the Greenbelt loop. As has been the case lately, my legs were feeling so good, but everything else felt weak and fatigued, and my heart was working overtime. I knew going into the race that it would eventually become a hike/run as I tried to keep my heart rate under control, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t happen so early. It did. Almost immediately after stashing my headlamp (actually, not mine, but one of the RD’s because of course I forgot mine, even though I’d made a list!), I began power hiking the ups and running the flats and the downs. I also made the decision to not get frustrated with it. Now, in the interest of honesty, I made that decision about eleventy-thousand times on the trail out of necessity, but I made it nonetheless. I eleventy-thousand percent believe it helped, too. Whether or not you choose to be positive can make or break your race. Hell, it can make or break your day, your week, your life. That’s another post for another time, though.
So, just shy of seven miles later, I’m off Greenbelt, passing through AS2, and heading up the Mountain Loop. This one is a doozy! You just go up and up and up until you reach the top, head down the other side until you reach the bottom, then climb up and up and up to the top again, and head back down to the start/finish area. I knew that it was going to be exceptionally demanding – not only because of the brutal climbing, but because physically, I’m not where I need to be. It was a really beautiful day, though, and my lungs were full of that mountain air, so I embraced the challenge from a different angle. I was coming at it from a place of self-study. A place of really digging in to determine where I am in relation to where I need to be. In the yoga world, the Sanskrit term for this is Svadhyaya. It’s a concept that teaches you to look at yourself wholly and honestly, and while rooted in that awareness, you can progress. You can make decisions, as you move forward, that will keep you safe, that will make you stronger, that will teach you more. I was thinking about this on my trek toward the sun.
By the time I approached the top of the mountain loop, I'd accepted the fact that this race was not about the race at all. I was on that trail to work on the parts of me that have nothing to do with crossing a finish line within a set goal time. That day was given to me as a means to explore where I am and where I need to be, both in life and in running, and I oscillated back and forth between the two until reaching the end many hours later. At one point, coming down the backside of the mountain, I made one last ditch effort to test myself physically. I wanted to see how fast I could go before it felt dangerous… if I could get my legs and my heart in sync again, but when I glanced down at my watch and saw 216 heart rate flashing up at me, I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. My legs seemed to instinctively slow until I stopped at the bottom of the hill, and, while hunched over trying to regain smooth breath, in that moment, I decided to finally be smart. I decided that for the first time in my running life, I was dropping down to the 50K. Just as I told myself that it was the right thing to do, I opened my eyes to see this gorgeous little purple quartz stone and I took that as a sign that changing races was the right thing to do. And yes, I realize that sounds a bit 'out there,' but let’s just go with it anyway. I slipped the stone into the pocket that held my other one and finished out the next eighteen miles with a new sense of resolve and a heart split wide open. That svadhyaya…. that shit teaches you more than putting one foot in front of the other ever will, and when you use it to put one foot in front of the other, it shows you how to do so with a healthy balance of grit and grace.